Support in Mind Scotland Ambassador and world champion Para Athletics sprinter Maria Lyle is spending Volunteers’ Week competing for Team GB in the European Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, ahead of her eagerly-awaited participation in the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo from 24 August-5 September.

Before she set off, the inspirational 21-year-old from Dunbar took a break from her training to write a blog for SiMS, a charity she has kindly supported as a volunteer since 2019, where she tells us about her improving mental health and coping strategies, her coaching aspirations and her positive attitude before she goes for Gold in Japan.

I am feeling really good just now and I believe the mental health issues I have experienced in the past have given me a good perspective on life and my running. The pandemic has had a big impact on people’s mental health – many have seen their lives changed or disrupted. In my case, even though there have been no Para Games events, I feel I am far better equipped to cope with it. I am starting to feel the enjoyment in my sport again.

I have been a lot better in terms of managing my mental health and anxiety, and that is because I have come to realise that there are some factors that I can’t control - it’s now about controlling the controllable. It is about focusing on myself and being the best I can be on the day. As long as I know that I have done the best I can on that day, then I can’t complain.

Obviously, if you come off the track and you know you could have run better, then you are going to be a bit annoyed with yourself, but I try not to be annoyed for too long. I don’t want to let a poor race ruin my day or make me feel rubbish for a long period of time.

To be honest, I am probably the least competitive person there is in competitive sport. I don’t sit at the start line and thinking to myself ‘I want to beat this person’. I am all about my own performance. That is maybe an attitude that I have adopted as a way of coping with things that in the past might have made me anxious, and I am pleased to say it’s working for me. Since I last wrote a blog for you, training has been going well. It helps that I am back being part of a training group now, because earlier in lockdown it was very individual. We had a meeting recently and the Sports Scientist came to talk to us about the weather conditions we might expect to encounter when we are out in Tokyo later this summer. So judged on the temperature it was there at the same time last year, it would be 32 degrees at 9 in the morning and mid 30s during the day - humid and hot, so quite different to what we have had in Scotland for most of the year so far!

The hot weather is good for sprinting though and it makes a difference to my running. I am lucky in that I run in shorter events, but the team have to cover a number of strategies for people who are running at longer distances and taking part in field events, throwing and jumping where they will be sitting by the track for hours in warm conditions. For me, in total, for both events, it comes down to less than a minute of actually running! You travel all that way – nearly 6,000 miles - for 14 seconds of running in the 100 metres! It is all over very quick when you think of it like that.

My coach Jamie Bowie has been a huge help to me. He was an athlete himself, so he really appreciates the point of view from an athlete’s perspective. He knows how you feel in different scenarios and knows how to react to you and advise you, which is really helpful. Jamie’s big thing is about coaching the person rather than the athlete.

He understands it is important to ensure that the person behind the athlete is feeling okay and the performance-side comes second. That is nice and is a refreshing outlook in a performance-sport, where occasionally athletes are just seen for being athletes, and it can be forgotten that there is a person behind the athlete and that they have emotions and feelings like everyone else.

Maria training at her local track at Meadowmill, near Prestonpans

I think we can all be guilty when watching a team we support or an athlete of dishing out criticism or blaming them for a performance, and forgetting how that person is feeling. Until you are that person who makes that mistake or doesn’t perform up to other people’s expectations then you don’t know how that feels. It is quite good to have someone like Jamie who helps take the pressure off me. It is all about working hard at training but also about enjoying it. It is a different approach to what I and others have experienced before.

I think working with Jamie is what has encouraged me to study Coaching and see a future in it. I want to establish myself as a coach working with disabled athletes.

As a disabled athlete, it can sometimes be hard for someone to relate to you – not only how you are and how you move as an athlete but also what it is like to be a disabled person. So I am really interested in coaching in Para sport. It is quite a niche thing to do, there is a lot of potential for it to develop and I think it’s quite an exciting time to be involved.

We have a wee group of athletes that I am coaching at our local track at Meadowmill, near Prestonpans. Some of the kids have Cerebral Palsy or different neurological conditions so I help them. They are at different stages in terms of their mobility and it has been so nice to see them progress and to hear their parents say nice things about the difference is making. Also, one of the parents has said that it is nice for me to be in the child’s life because they know they have got someone they can speak to about their disability and they know that they are not alone, and know that you can do well, and nothing can limit you. If I had someone like that in my life when I was growing up then perhaps I wouldn’t have experienced the same kind of mental health issues that I had. It is nice to speak to someone who is going through something similar. It is very rewarding and fun to chat to them and work with them.

I do this coaching voluntary, on top of my course work. The course is four years and I am just finishing second year at Uni, so halfway there. I enjoy the coaching experience, the learning aspect and pushing myself outside my comfort zone. It has really helped my own running and confidence.

After the Europeans, my only overseas visit ahead of Tokyo, my focus will firmly be on the Summer Games.

This time I hope everything will go ahead as planned, but if it doesn’t happen, there is no point getting too frustrated. At the end of the day, it is out of your control. Everyone’s lives have been affected by the pandemic, it’s not just sport – it’s been music, politics, all different walks of life. I am content and enjoying life and I feel ready to cope with whatever lies ahead this summer.